Nia Long on #MeToo, Fenty Beauty, and strong black women

Nia Long’s wearing an effortlessly chic, all-black ensemble for another whirlwind press day in New York City. Making the rounds to promote a new film, Long’s got on a black mock neck quarter-sleeve top, high-waisted black slacks, and a black faux fur jacket paired with a messy ponytail, her hair longer than when Juicy J rapped “short hair like Nia Long,” a line that became the de facto Instagram caption for women’s cropped hair selfies.

It would be a subdued look on anyone else, but on Long — whose energy radiates so warmly through a room — you can’t help but pay attention.

Long was at Build Series New York talking about her new movie, Roxanne Roxanne, in which she plays the mother, Miss Peggy, to hip-hop trailblazer Roxanne Shanté. The movie, which is available for streaming on Netflix on March 23, is emblematic of the current social climate, Long says. It’s a movie about a strong, black woman who fought for a seat at the table alongside the earliest rappers, like the group UTFO, whose song “Roxanne Roxanne” inspired the name of the film. And nearly three decades before Nicki Minaj released “Roman’s Revenge,” it was Shanté (with her most famous track, “Roxanne’s Revenge”) who rap-battled and fought for fame in New York’s nascent rap scene. Variety dubbed her “a feminist teenage street queen.”

Nia Long (Photo: Don Flood)

I think, for so long, women have not been allowed to speak up, speak on their truth. And hip-hop is a way for women to be unapologetically honest,” Long says. “This film is about a young woman who did just that. She was going to speak on her experience in her way, and she pushed through the men to say, ‘I’m here. You get to tell your stories, but we have stories too.’ … It’s right in alignment with the #MeToo movement, right in alignment with this era of female empowerment, of women being leaders, of running the world, of being just as successful as men, if not more.”

Speaking of successful women, Long turns to the subject of musician turned cosmetics mogul Rihanna, whose Fenty Beauty line is part of a blossoming lifestyle empire. Long, who first met Rihanna in 2007 at the Nickelodeon Kids’ Choice Awards, thinks that just as movies like Roxanne Roxanne, Black Panther, and Moonlight elevate the black experience, so too does the Barbadian singer’s beauty line.

Nia Long volunteering with Nothing But Nets in Tanzania in August 2017. The organization provides mosquito nets to populations at risk for malaria. (Photo: Stuart Ramson for United Nations Foundation)

“For years, the cosmetic and beauty industries have never really catered to us in ways that they should, because black women are the largest consumers. When I looked at the numbers we spend on beauty, hair, skin, it’s because nothing works, so we keep buying and buying and buying. There’s a market that’s wide open that should be capitalized on. And Rihanna, listen, she kicked the front door open.”

Long, a self-proclaimed “product whore,” has her own ambitions about launching a beauty or skin-care line one day (though she does make a point to say that she doesn’t “always feel beautiful” and that “it’s more important to feel beautiful on the inside, and everything else just sort of is part of your day.”) In Roxanne Roxanne, Long’s character wears bold red lipstick, a recurring motif and source of conflict between mother and daughter in the film.

It’s a fitting hue: There’s no hiding behind a red lip.

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